Basketball needs a new villain

The curtain has come down on what proved to be an NBA season chock full of storylines. Kawhi Leonard delivered Toronto its first title, LeBron James missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, and Golden State missed out on the first 3-peat since a guy named Jordan did it in the 90s. Yet, as the dust settles, one key role has been left shockingly unfilled in the world of basketball. For the first time in quite a while, basketball does not have a villain.

Kobe Bryant
The Black Mamba won 5 titles spanning the course of 11 years. (Flikr)

This role, most recently portrayed by Kevin Durant, is one common to basketball for decades. Sometimes, it even manifested into teams. The “Bad Boys” were the clear villain in the NBA during the late 80s, led by Bill Laimbeer. The mantle was passed to Christian Laetner in the early 90s. The late 90s were owned by that Kobe kid. He likely held that title for quite a while, even giving his persona a name which struck fear into the heart of his opponents. Although JJ Reddick really challenged him for the crown during the mid 2000’s.

In 2010, LeBron James announced he would be taking up the role until further notice when he created the first modern era super team. When he stepped down, as his character arc brought him back to hero status, Grayson Allen stepped up to bring back the Duke hate. That led us into Durant’s reign when he signed with Golden State.

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The King became the league’s best villain ever with his move to South Beach. (Wikimedia Commons)

There is no doubt though that Durant is done with the role, after attempting to play through injury in the finals before rupturing his Achillies, as the Warriors ultimately succumbed to injuries and the might of Kawhi Leonard. That kind of grit and determination won over a lot of the haters. Golden State already seemed to be losing steam as the league’s big bad. With Durant set to miss most or all of next season, Grayson Allen wasting away in Utah and LeBron looking like a business mogul in L.A., it is safe to say basketball will be holding auditions to replace him as its antagonist.

It is hard to know where to look for the next villain of basketball. The men’s college game didn’t produce any worthy candidates. It’s best player was one of the nicest people on the planet. The women’s college game didn’t even come close to manufacturing a leading lady, as Sabrina Ionescu (basically) felled every triple-double record ever known. The closest thing the WNBA might have is Brittney Griner, but she doesn’t seem to command the same level of animosity she did in college.

The NBA seems like the best bet to unearth the next great basketball antihero. With free agency looming and the Lakers acquisition of Anthony Davis, could Los Angeles once again become the home of the sport’s evil empire? This is Hollywood after all. They produce great villains all the time.

LeBron’s Lakers feel like the only remaining hope for a true villain right now in basketball. There is the potential college basketball will suddenly find a worthy contender, but no one seems ideally placed to take on the role. In the NBA, none of the current superstars feel all that hateable. Leonard is way too soft spoken. Giannis Antetokounmpo feels way too lovable. The closest thing the Association currently has to a new villain is Drake. In order for him to truly vault into that position, the Raptors would need to be a consistent contender. That is far from guaranteed. It also feels pretty lame if the villain is not even a player.

I just feel lost right now in terms of who to hate. After so many years of great villains, I can’t buy into hating the Lakers yet. I now feel bad for Durant and the Warriors. I dislike James Harden, but that hardly elevates him to villain status. Basketball just looks like a villain-less wasteland.

No, basketball must truly return to the drawing board and craft up a new character to lord over the sport, inspiring hate in all of our social media diatribes. The NBA capped its incredible storytelling with a masterstroke of having the unsuspecting Raptors vanquish the mighty Warriors, but it came at the cost of its best villain in years.

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Celtics win the Anthony Davis lottery

Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis demanded a trade back in January. (Flikr)

Tuesday night’s chaos has led to some legitimate reshaping of the NBA landscape in a matter of minutes. The New Orleans Pelicans, who entered with the 7th-best odds to land the top pick, actually won the NBA Draft lottery. I would argue though, that based on how the rest of the lottery shook out, the Celtics actually won the night.

There is no question the Pelicans are in a much better place than they were prior to the those ping pong balls bouncing their way on Tuesday. The opportunity to (most likely) select Zion Williamson in June could be a franchise-altering moment. However, it sounds like their current superstar Anthony Davis still wants out of New Orleans.

It sounds like the Pelicans will still need to move the former Kentucky star this offseason, even if they hope to convince him otherwise. There have been some landing spots bandied about over the past few months, but with the Pelicans already in possession of the top pick, it changes a lot. And it all shook out in the Celtics’ favor.

For one, the Knicks don’t have the top pick, significantly hurting their ability to pry Davis from NOLA. RJ Barrett would be a nice piece to add, but if that is the piece that headlines the trade deal for Davis, there is a lot less to be excited about considering the Pelicans are already in line for the best prospect in the draft.

While the Lakers jumped into the top 4, there is reason to be skeptical a deal will get done between these two franchises. Los Angeles started this whole Davis sweepstakes and New Orleans accused LA of tampering as well. Part of me believes the Pelicans will remain spiteful and refuse to deal Davis to the Lakers. The package of Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma and the fourth pick, probably DeAndre Hunter or Jarrett Culver, is much more enticing than anything the Knicks could offer.

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Jayson Tatum is only 21 years old and average 15 points and six rebounds this year in Boston. (Wikimedia Commons)

With the Knicks in a much worse position and the Lakers still viewed as the enemy, that leaves the Celtics. Boston landed the 14th overall pick, which is what most expected, but that pick could have gone to the 76ers if the Kings had won the lottery (the NBA is complicated sometimes). So hanging onto the pick was good for Boston, either to add another young player or as ammo in a trade for Davis.

What Danny Ainge has that no one else does is a budding star to offer in return in the form of Jayson Tatum. Boston could send Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart and that 14th pick to New Orleans in return for Anthony Davis. They can offer a better package than anyone else in the NBA. Hayward is included to balance out the money being swapped, but that also means the Celtics could keep a max contract slot open this offseason to attract, say, Kevin Durant. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis would present Boston with its best big three since, well just 2010 actually, but you get the idea. The key would be locking up Davis to a long-term deal, but that is a core more than capable of winning a title in Beantown.

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A trade for Tatum could pair Zion Williamson with another former Duke star. (Wikimedia Commons)

The reason why I like the Celtics to land Davis is because of what the Pelicans feel they can build in return. A team boasting Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday has a lot of potential to be great. It would give them a good mix of cost controlled deals and max contracts to build a true contender, something New Orleans seemed intent on doing with Davis after hiring former Cleveland general manager David Griffin as executive vice president of basketball operations.

It is a rare situation where both franchises get exactly what they are looking for. The Celtics add a superstar to keep Kyrie in town and make it the most popular free agent destination in the league, while still hanging onto young talent like Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. With two other first round picks, they can still add new rookie contracts or acquire another veteran via trade. The Pelicans go through an accelerated rebuild and create one of the most exciting young teams in the league pretty much overnight.

After months of feeling like AD was headed for Los Angeles or New York, the Pelicans are back in control and can listen to the best offer available. That will definitely come from Boston, who is desperate to win a title very soon.

It is all speculation at this point, but Tuesday night was a very good night for the Boston Celtics.

Is this the second coming of the Dream Team?

Dream Team JordanPretending that this team is as good as the “Dream Team” from 1992 is probably pushing it. However, if you can march out a starting lineup that consists of Chris Paul, James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who are you going to lose to? Even if those guys need a rest, you can roll out a lineup of Steph Curry, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMarcus Cousins. Even that lineup isn’t getting beat by anyone else in the world.

This is the most talent in a US camp that we’ve seen in quite some time. We just watch Team USA lose to Canada in the Pan-American games. And it wasn’t even in the finals. That team consisted on many college players, led by Ron Baker and Melo Trimble. The players who were already pros on that squad were Anthony Randolph and Ryan Hollins from the NBA and a few others hailing from overseas leagues. It has been some time since we’ve seen a top flight USA team.

LeBron_James_Even in 2014, when the USA won the FIBA World Cup yet again, some of the top end talent was not there. James, Durant and Paul were all watching from home. That’s three fifths of a potential starting lineup. Like I said, the US still dominated the competition. They won their five group play games by an average of 33.2 points per game. Every other team in their group finished with a negative point differential as well due to the massive losses at the hands of the US. In bracket play, the US’ closest game came in the quarterfinals against Mexico, and the US won by 23. It was a landslide the whole way.

Chris PaulIt begs the question of does the US need to send an even more stacked team to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil next summer? Obviously, any team can lose on any day but sending in even more reinforcements seems like overkill. We all saw what can happen to stars trying to play at the international level when Paul George careened into the barrier and destroyed his knee. That could very well happen to any of the other superstars walking out on the court. They could suffer a serious injury in a game that really could be won without them.

Stephen_Curry2Now if everyone left it would be an issue but for guys like Durant and George who are coming off major injuries that prevented them from participating in most of the previous NBA season, is this worth the risk? Both of them are in camp with the team, which doesn’t guarantee they will be playing in Rio but the possibility is there. I’m sure Oklahoma City and Indiana would both prefer if their two star players rested up and trained on their own, preparing to be on the court in the NBA this season. (Side note: George has since left camp.)

Anthony_DavisI know I sound critical of the best players participating on Team USA. The truth is that not all of that star power is needed to win an Olympic Gold for the US. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t be a ton of fun to watch these guys play together. It will almost be like the NBA All Star game but this time the outcome has some consequence. It should be an offensive barrage as well making the game just that much more entertaining. Those five guys, Paul, Harden, Durant, James and Davis scored a combined 118 points per night in the NBA this season. They obviously all can’t hit those numbers now as their usage ratings combine to reach 144 percent.

Harden_DurantIt may be a risk but it is one that we as fans of basketball should hope they continue to take. There have been some new precautions taken to avoid repeats of George’s gruesome injury. And if we get to see the best US players on the court together dominating it will be a sight to behold, even if games are blowouts. It probably couldn’t touch the “Dream Team” from ’92 but there is a good chance this will be the most talented team Team USA assembles since that point. That final 12-man roster is going to be stacked.

How good is Andrew Wiggins?

People have been talking all season about how good Andrew Wiggins has been in his rookie year. The kid as essentially run away with the NBA Rookie of the Year award. Wiggins has been the bright spot in a dismal season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The real question is, is Wiggins really a dominant force, or is he just the favorite by default.

This has been a very weak rookie class so far. Only five players are averaging more than ten points per contest this season. Wiggins is the only one average more than 12 with his 16.7 points per game. (Jabari Parker was over 12 a night prior to being injured this season). Wiggins also ranks fifth among qualified rookies in rebounds per game this season. He also sits fifth in terms of steals per contest and sixth in rejections. Wiggins is shaping himself into a very capable all-around player.

One major knock against Wiggins despite all of his talent is his underwhelming assist-to-turnover ratio. He may only be a small forward, but with the amount of time Wiggins spends on the ball, (22.1% usage rating) it would be nice to see Wiggins as a distributor. He is one of only a few players that owns a ratio under 1 sitting at 0.91 assists for every turnover. In fact, he is the only small forward to play 30 minutes or more per game yet still post a ratio under one.

The kid out of Kansas is still young though and has a long time to develop that side of his game. It really should not be much of a concern. The overall athleticism he exudes though is tantalizing for anyone with interest in the Wolves. It might seem harsh to judge the kid on what he has done through just one season but I am curious to see how he stacks up with some of the other top picks in the past several years.

Already, Wiggins is in elite company. Of the top picks since 2008, five out of six have been named All-stars. Those players include Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. The only one yet to live up his billing as the top pick is Wiggins’ teammate, Anthony Bennett. It is not really fair to compare Wiggins to the last small forward drafted first overall either, seeing as that was LeBron James. However, there are a couple of other star small forwards we can compare this budding superstar.

Carmelo Anthony was taken in the same draft as James. His numbers put up against Wiggins’ are superior although not by much. Anthony averaged 21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 0.5 blocks per outing as a rookie playing for the Denver Nuggets. However, he also posted an assist-to-turnover ratio that was under one. Wiggins actually trumps Melo in shooting percentage though with 43.6 compared to 42.3.

Wiggins also stacks up pretty comparably with Kevin Durant’s rookie season. Obviously, the huge discrepancy in height makes this comparison a little tough but Durant averaged 20 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block per game. Durant has the edge in the scoring department but once again, Wiggins is shooting at a higher percentage, especially from behind the arc. Durant posted a 28.8 percent success rate from three his rookie year; meanwhile, Wiggins has drained 32.5 percent of his takes. Once again, Durant had an assist-to-turnover ratio below one.

The best comparison for Wiggins though might be to a former Boston legend. Not many others have played better than Paul Pierce over the course of his career. Pierce is also the same style player as Wiggins, switching between a two-guard and a winger. Pierce had a very similar stat line to Wiggins when he first began playing for the Celtics back in 1999. Pierce tallied 16.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.75 steals and 1 block a night, however only in 48 games. Those are not too far off from Wiggins is doing now and Pierce posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of almost exactly one. If this means that Wiggins is destined to average 21, 6 and 4, I think fans in Minnesota will be more than content with that.

While it looks like he is running away with this years’ award, keep in mind that Wiggins still has a lot of growing to do before he can be considered an elite player. However, with him only at 19 and oozing with potential I don’t think the growth will be that hard to come by. Wiggins has the potential to be a perennial All-star in this league and maybe even make Minnesota competitive in a couple of years. With Wiggins at the center of a young core, it seems like the Wolves are off to a good start. His presence certainly makes it easier to forget the absence of certain Love Minnesota used to have.

NBA All Star snubs

The NBA All Star rosters took another step towards being finalized yesterday. The coaches decided on who the reserve players for each team should be. The East roster now features Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Pau Gasol, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Kyrie Irving and Dwayne Wade. The West includes Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, James Harden, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Klay Thompson. At least two players, Wade and Bryant, will likely not be participating due to injury. There are some notable names missing from this list and I am going to break down who among them should have made it.

The first name to jump out at me absolutely has to be Derrick Rose. The Bulls’ point guard has had an injury-ridden season but when he has played, he has looked like one of the best players in the league. He has struggled though, especially shooting the ball. However, he is still scoring at a great rate and he is tied for 16th in points per 48 minutes played. He is also scoring more than Teague or Wall, who made the team over him. Rose is averaging fewer assists and shooting at a much worse rate per game though so I can understand why he was not picked. That being said, I think he is the next logical add if it turns out that Wade cannot go.

The other thing that bothers me in the East is leaving out the Pistons’ frontcourt. Both Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are in the top ten for rebounding this season with Drummond ranking second and Monroe tying for ninth. Drummond is averaging almost thirteen points per game as well with Monroe accounting for more than 15 per night. Drummond also has the most board per 48 minutes played and is an excellent shot blocker ranking ninth in the league. The issue for these two guys is that it is hard to argue whose spot they should take. I think Millsap and Horford were deserving of their selections. Both of these Pistons’ big men have played well though this season and certainly should have been considered.

Flipping to the West now, there is no bigger omission than DeMarcus Cousins. The man they call “Boogie” has been a force in Sacramento this season. Cousins has missed some time due to injury this year but he has put on a show out in California. He cleans up the board with 12.3 rebounds a game, good for third in the NBA. That is also two more rebounds per game than Duncan, who did make the team. The Kings’ big man has also made his presence felt defensively, with roughly 1.5 blocks and steals each per matchup. Duncan is logging about 2 blocks but only 1 steal per game. The biggest difference though is the gap in scoring. Duncan is scoring a solid 14.7 points per game. Meanwhile, Cousins is tallying 23.8 per night, which ranks fifth best in the NBA. I understand that Duncan is a great veteran player but I would definitely have selected Cousins over him.

Damian Lillard was another man forgotten in the All Star selection process. He has been a much better scorer than Chris Paul has this season but Paul has registered a lot more assists. The Blazers’ floor general shot much more effectively than Bryant did this season but Kobe, even despite his age, has been the better defender. The reality is that Lillard has played extremely well but it hasn’t been enough to push his name into being an All Star. There is a good chance that had Lillard been playing the East he would have been selected this season. He has outperformed the majority of the guards in the East but that does not matter with voting being conducted by conference.

It is hard to argue with the lineups being assembled to play in New York this season (well, outside of Kobe of course). There were some guys who were probably qualified to make these teams but unfortunately come up short based on how tough it is to make the 12-man roster. Only 24 players are named All Stars meaning that there are plenty of others who are left out. Let me know if you think there were some other players who should have made it.